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Tanner Rainey: Future closer; concerns over forearm tightness; Should he return in 2020?

Davey Martinez and Mike Rizzo talked over the last few days about Tanner Rainey’s development over the last few years and what the future holds for the reliever?

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Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals - Game One Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

In 20 appearances and 20 13 innings pitched overall this season, hard-throwing 27-year-old right-hander Tanner Rainey has a 2.66 ERA, a 3.80 FIP, seven walks (3.10 BB/9), 32 Ks (14.16 K/9), and a .119/.213/.328 line against. Opposing hitters facing the Nationals’ two-pitch pitcher have put up a .149 AVG on his fastball (which has averaged 96.6 MPH this season, down a bit from an average of 97.7 in 2019), and a .050 AVG on his slider (87.1 MPH).

Unfortunately, Rainey hasn’t been available over the last few days, and his manager, Davey Martinez, said he is experiencing tightness in his forearm.

“He’s got a little tightness of his forearm so we’re going to give him a few days off,” Martinez said on Saturday. “He went and got an MRI yesterday, it came back negative. I think he’s just tired. So he’s going to have today off as well. We’ll see how he feels in the next couple days, but I just want to give him a couple days off.”

Providing an update on Sunday afternoon, Martinez said there was no update, and they still planned on having Rainey rest for a few days.

“Yeah, we’re going to reevaluate him on Tuesday,” the manager explained.

“We’re giving him a few days off and we’ll see how he feels then. I talked to him today and he’s still a little tender. He wanted a couple days, so we’ll see how he feels on Tuesday.”

Earlier in the day on Sunday, GM Mike Rizzo talked to reporters about a variety of topics and the reliever and his development in the two years he’s been in Washington, D.C. following a trade from Cincinnati came up.

“He’s been terrific for us,” Rizzo said. “He came from a very limited major league experience when we traded for him.

“There were bouts of wildness,” the GM added, “... and he was a thrower and not a pitcher. His stuff was unquestionable, but his pitchability was something that allowed us to trade for him. I think our major league and minor league coaches did a great job with him, not only last year giving him a foundation of getting to the big leagues, but specifically this year in our two Spring Trainings, to see the progression he’s made in commanding two of those extremely productive pitches for him has been great.”

His manager talked about protecting Rainey this season, now that an issue has cropped up, considering where he sees the righty in terms of a role in the bullpen going forward.

“Rainey is slowly but surely becoming that guy, and every time out there you can see him building more and more confidence, it’s good,” Martinez told reporters.

“Like I said, here’s a guy last year, you got to remember, last year was his first year, and slowly but surely he started getting better and better. This year, he had some — a kind of confidence in him that, ‘Hey, I’m going to be able to pitch in the back end of the bullpen. I’m going to get high-leverage situations and get outs, and he’s been doing that and he’s been doing that really well.

“Moving forward ... I can see him being the closer. Right now he’s our eighth-inning guy, but I can see him moving into that closer’s spot in the future here, for sure.”

“There was never a question,” Rizzo said on Sunday, “about his make-up or willingness to take the ball in big situations, so he’s proved our judgement correct there, that he has the late-inning mentality to pitch really leverage, meaningful innings, and couple that with the stuff he had, and now kind of all coming together where he’s pitching better, throwing a lot of quality strikes and really attacking the hitters, I think is the main reason he’s had such great success.”

Is it worth sending him back out to the mound this season, given where the Nationals stand right now, or should they just start building towards 2021 when he might take on a big(ger) role?